Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, WW II U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander


Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, WW II U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander

Admiral Nimitz’s Berkeley Residences
Claremont Hotel
728 Santa Barbara Rd.

Chester W. Nimitz, born in his sea-faring grandfather’s small, central-Texas hotel, quit high school at age 15 to enter the Annapolis Naval Academy. He excelled academically and could do more sit-ups than any other student, but his naval career began inauspiciously when he got “frightfully sea-sick” on his first tour of duty. At age 24, Ensign Nimitz was court-martialed for grounding the destroyer he commanded south of Manila Bay. Redeployed to work with submarines — vessels Nimitz described as “a cross between a Jules Verne fantasy and a humpbacked whale” — he became an expert in submarine propulsion and oversaw the building of the Navy’s first diesel submarine engine.

Nimitz rose quickly through the ranks. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt instructed his Secretary of the Navy: “Tell Nimitz to get the hell to Pearl and stay there until the war is won.” Nimitz did just that. Travelling incognito across the country with secret documents hidden in his wife’s sewing bag, Nimitz shipped out to be sworn in as Commander of the Pacific Fleet aboard one of the few vessels that survived the attack, a submarine. While waiting for his fleet to be rebuilt, Nimitz took long walks with his pet Schnauzer, made jelly from prickly pears, and capped the days with a glass of bourbon. Together with General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Nimitz, commanding more than two million men and five thousand ships, orchestrated Japan’s World War II defeat. Promoted to Fleet Admiral in 1944, he signed Japan’s surrender in Tokyo Bay aboard the battleship Missouri on September 2, 1945.

Following the war Admiral Nimitz received numerous decorations and honorary degrees. He and his wife Catherine relocated to California in 1947, settling on Yerba Buena Island. Nimitz soon tired of ceremonial posts and the couple moved to the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, a city Nimitz knew from his early active duty days when, in 1926, he established the University’s first Naval Reserve Officers’ Training Unit and served as UC Berkeley’s first Professor of Naval Sciences. In 1948 he was appointed by Governor Earl Warren to the UC Board of Regents, a position he held for eight years. In 1963, while living on Santa Barbara Rd., Nimitz suffered a fall. He and his wife then moved to Treasure Island where three years later he died from a stroke.

Contributed by Robert Kehlmann, 2014

  • Nimitz Residence, photo (2014) R. Kehlmann

  • Nimitz assumes command of the Pacific Fleet on submarine USS Grayling, Dec 31, 1941, photo military

  • Admiral Nimitz signs instrument of Japan's surrender aboard USS Missouri (1945), photo Commonwealth of Australia

  • Adrian Lamb portrait of Admiral Nimitz (1960), National Archives

  • Admiral Nimitz portrait by Lt. Commander McClelland Barclay (1942), National Archives

Photo credit abbreviations:
BAHA: Berkeley Architectural Heritage Assn.
BHS: Berkeley Historical Society